Pickled fish is a huge tradition in the Cape, and interestingly it is very popular at Easter time. Tradition has it that this is because Christians are not supposed to eat meat on Good Friday and so this was the perfect meal to prepare a few days in advance and would be ready for when the family returned from the long Good Friday church service, however it is equally as popular with the Cape Muslim community so I am not sure that it has anything to do with Easter to be honest. It is still today to be found on many tables for lunch not only on Good Friday but throughout the year. Few Cape homes would not have their own recipe for “kerrievis” as pickling was a popular way of preserving fish in the days before refrigerators.
Traditionally pickled fish is prepared by frying a fairly meaty, firm fish (Snoek or Yellowtail are the favoured fish to use but Hake or Kingklip may also be used) in batter and then covering it with a pickled onion sauce. The sauce is made with curry and spices and is quite spicy. Once cooked and in the sauce the fish has to sit for at least 24 to 48 hours absorbing all the flavours of the spices and vinegar for intensity and is served as a cold dish, usually at room temperature. I have prepared it without the batter as I prefer it this way.
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil for frying
- 1 1/2 kg / 3 pounds cod fillets, cut into smaller portions
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 large onions, peeled and sliced into rings
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 8 whole black peppercorns
- 4 whole allspice berries or 1/2 teaspoon allspice powder
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 red chilli pepper, seeded and diced
- 2 cups red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Season the fish with salt and dust with some flour then place in the skillet.
- Fry on both sides until fish is browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.
- Remove from the skillet and set aside.
- Fry the onions and garlic in the same skillet over medium heat until translucent.
- Add the peppercorns, allspice berries, bay leaves, and red chilli pepper.
- Pour in the vinegar and water and bring to a boil.
- Stir in the brown sugar until dissolved.
- Season with curry powder, turmeric, cumin and coriander.
- Taste and adjust the sweetness if desired.
- Layer pieces of fish and the pickling mixture in a serving dish.
- Pour the liquid over until the top layer is covered.
- Allow to cool then cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving.